Saturday, February 25, 2017

A Message From General Use

One day last week, Garrison Keillor's The Writer's Almanac page had this timely note:

The first mass inoculation of the Salk vaccine against polio began on this date in 1954, at the Arsenal Elementary School in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The year before, there had been 35,000 reported cases of the highly contagious disease — and by 1962, after the vaccine came into general usage, there were 161.

In 1954 I was a schoolboy some thirty miles away from Arsenal Elementary, and we soon were lining up for the vaccine. We knew of children with the dreaded disease of polio, and saw photos of the iron lung. Dr. Salk was a hero to us.  So I've got no problem with highlighting his achievement.

What I have no use for however is that phrase "after the vaccine came into general usage."  In standard English usage as I learned it, that's a wrong use of usage, or it used to be.  Not only that, the phrase "in general use" is itself a standard description.

"Usage" used to be used almost exclusively for the standard or traditional way to use something--most familiarly, a language.  Now the misuse of "usage" is part of a trend of using extra syllables or words, especially as abstractions or passive-voice constructions, to give the impression that the user is pretty damn smart.  A similar example is using "closure" to mean "closing,"  as in a road closure.  As one language website puts it, "some people use the word 'usage' as though it were just a fancier form of the word 'use.'"  Such misuse demeans both words and impoverishes the language.

But usage these days is determined by how people use words at this moment. And once again we clot up the language and eventually change the standard, so that usage replaces use just because we get used to it.

It pains me that a website for writers misuses this word, especially captained by the plain spoken Garrison Keillor (who repeats this misuse in his audio portion.)
Of course, I still love the site.  I'm not one of those churlish users who cries, "I used to love his site but he's betrayed me! I've been used!" over one usage disagreement.  But I still hold out the possibly vain hope that this misuse of usage does not come into general use.

Friday, February 24, 2017

Deja Robo

One day early this week the phone rang.  I answered it.
"Hello," I said.  Nothing.  "Hello" I said again, noting that silence that usually means a robocall.

"Oh, hello!" said a female voice, sounding flustered, followed by a kind of giggle.  "Sorry about that, I had a problem with my headset."

Then she went into her spiel, though I've forgotten what it was for. I tried to interrupt but she kept going, so I said something like "No thanks" and hung up.

About three days later the phone rang.  I answered it.
"Hello," I said.  Nothing.  "Hello" I said again, noting that silence that usually means a robocall.

"Oh, hello!" said a female voice, sounding flustered, followed by a kind of giggle.  "Sorry about that, I had a problem with my headset."

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

The Plausibility of Our Human World

“I had an epiphany once that I wish I could stimulate in everyone else. The plausibility of our human world, the fact that the buildings don’t all fall down and you can eat unpoisoned food that someone grew, is immediately palpable evidence of an ocean of good will and good behavior from almost everyone, living or dead. We are bathed in what can be called love.

And yet that love shows itself best through the constraints of civilization, because those constraints compensate for the flaws of human nature. We must see ourselves honestly, and engage ourselves realistically, in order to become better.”

 Jaron Lanier
 You Are Not a Gadget

Lanier (VR pioneer and big thinker about the digital realm) seems to subscribe to the T.H. Huxley view of human evolution: the human species obeyed the biological imperative by competing with--i.e. killing off--other species in its niche, but human civilization can evolve in the opposite manner, by societal and personal cooperation, ethics and, as he says, love.

In this way, people shape the kind of world they want to live in by their daily behavior, and by the behavior and commitments of the institutions that set expectations beyond their lives and lifetime.  That's the danger of shredding institutions with hate, greed and by people mindlessly letting their dark side rule.

I've had cause to interact recently with a number of people on the North Coast whose jobs are in health care.  Unfailingly they have been friendly, direct and competent.  These are the kind of people that are building the future, not the ego-mad monsters in Washington and on Wall Street.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Defining the Darkness.16

The next step in growing and consolidating power for a flailing and unpopular regime with an apprentice dictator is to start a war or react violently against a terrorist attack, probably also by starting a war.  The attack, according to some, is itself a present danger:

In terms of a major terrorist attack in the United States or on U.S. facilities, I think we’re significantly less ready than we were on January 19,” said Richard Clarke, who served on the National Security Council in the George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and George W. Bush administrations. “I think our readiness is extremely low and dangerously low. Certainly [government] agencies at a professional level will respond [to an attack], but having a coordinated interagency response is unlikely given the current cast of characters [in the administration] and their experience.”

"Clarke’s conclusion is based in part on the upheaval on the National Security Council," the Atlantic article goes on to say, but the regime's toxic relationship with American intelligence agencies, the US military and key foreign allies along with basic incompetence makes this both a more likely and very dangerous scenario.

As for terrorist organizations not totally ripped to shreds by the relentless dismantling conducted over the past eight years, the Washington regime's xenophobic and particularly anti-Muslim and anti-Arab rhetoric should help them rebuild with new recruits, eager to take advantage of the chaos fostered by the improv circus of the deluded in Washington.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Holiday of Shame

It's going to be like this.  Each annual event in Washington, in addition to every hour's news, is going to remind us what a travesty and a tragedy we're living through, thanks to the results of the 2016 presidential election.

Now we've got President's Day, and apart from honoring the best that have held that office, we're faced with the present incumbent, and his moral corruption, incompetence and the daily dishonor he does to the office and the country, so extreme (as I foretold you) that it's unlikely either will ever be the same.  So this is our first holiday of shame.

“The job of being President of the United States is one of the most difficult, the most nearly impossible, ever devised by the ingenuity of man," H.G. Wells wrote in 1935. "A politician is elected and he is expected to become a divinity.”

No one who has held the office has been perfect, and even the best made morally questionable decisions and backed morally troublesome policies.  But on balance, many served honorably, and we owe our country's survival and freedoms to several.  The top 3 in the latest survey of 91 presidential historians fit the bill: Abraham Lincoln, George Washington and Franklin D. Roosevelt.

(By the way, President Barack Obama ranks as the 12th best in his first appearance in the survey, and would have ranked higher except for bad grades on his "relationship" with the absolute opposition of Congress.)

But now we are barely a month into the regime of Homegrown Hitler, whose recent statement that the press are "enemies of the people" marks him (again) as a dangerous apprentice dictator, according to those raving leftists, Senator John McCain and Fox News' Chris Wallace.  While his regime busily dismantles federal programs and protections to benefit the uber-wealthy, federal spending has ballooned so large to support him and his family in their corrupt style that the usual system can't keep up.

But it's not only this shameful incumbent that makes this a holiday of shame.  It's the voters who put him there by not voting.  In the first election in this century, complacency and blithe misunderstanding of consequences put Bush-CHENEY in the White House (with the material assistance of the Supreme Court in a travesty of democracy), and eight long years of horror and near bankruptcy ensued.

 But in 2016 potential voters didn't learn, they didn't heed the warnings.  They did not have the maturity to understand the need to vote regardless of their small feelings and tastes, their micro-grievances and political fantasies.  Or impelled by aspects of their inner darkness they cannot admit.  They didn't vote, or voted for third party candidates.  And they got what they deserve.

Though the price will be paid by many, including many yet unborn. As for those who welcome the Apprentice Dictator because it encourages a political revolution, they seem among the least likely to be among the many hurt by what the Homegrown Hitler regime does.

There are multiple protests every week (including one mockingly mourning the death of the presidency.)  Did all of those people vote?  Maybe.  People voted for the apprentice emperor because they were "angry," it's said.  Well now, reports of town halls for officeholders of both parties show that everybody is angry.  The anger has at least doubled.

A disturbing piece in the New York Review of Books, on the World Trade Center buildings to replace the towers felled on 9/11 says this:

As the latest studies make abundantly clear, the transformation of the World Trade Center site was hampered to a shameful degree by the intransigent self-interest of both individuals and institutions. As a result, an effort ostensibly meant to display our country’s unified spirit in response to an unprecedented calamity instead revealed that communal altruism of the sort that helped America to survive the Great Depression and triumph in World War II had largely become a thing of the past. Although all major construction schemes face tremendous problems, the World Trade Center rebuilding encapsulates everything that is wrong with urban development in a period when, as in so many other aspects of our public life, the good of the many is sacrificed to the gain of the few."

So anger at the bottom, greed at the top, and we not only don't appear to have an actual President, we may find that the coherent, semi-cohesive country being governed is also slipping away.

Maybe the place to start is to admit the shame, and feel it.  This weekend throws it in our faces.

Update: FYI Not My President Day across US.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Sign of the Times

Sign at the scientists rally in Copley Square Boston on Sunday, via Boston Globe. But apparently needing some help from English majors on verb agreement.  Extra credit though for the 1950s/60s atomic era colors and typography.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

So It Goes

As virtuous men float mildly away
so do our minutes hasten toward the rain,
some speckled, some merely numinous,
and so it goes. The Traveler and his Shadow
find much to concur on. The wreckage of the sky
serves to confirm us in delicious error.
Congratulations on your life

John Ashbery

Friday, February 17, 2017

Defining the Darkness.15

After reporting results of a survey that showed that 25% of Americans surveyed said that Homegrown Hitler should be able to overturn the decisions of judges, but  fully 51% of his supporters agreed...

The Guardian:

"As the PPP’s survey reveals, Trump is appealing to a remarkably receptive audience in his attempts to rule by decree – and many are no longer attached to the rule of law and/or democracy. Other studies confirm these findings."

Another study showed a different division among Americans, between pre-Boomers and Millennials:

"When asked to rate on a scale of 1 to 10 how “essential” it is for them “to live in a democracy,” 72% of Americans born before World War II check “10,” the highest value. But, the millennial generation (those born since 1980) “has grown much more indifferent.” Less than 1 in 3 hold a similar belief about the importance of democracy."

The decline is a steady downward curve, with those born in the 1940s above 60%, born in the 50s about 57% and born in the 60s at 50%.  Generation X is just above 40%.

I'm generally skeptical of social science surveys, and this one is dubious (why is only a 10 on the 1-10 scale considered supporting democracy? Why not a 9?) And the usual problem with s.s. surveys--who are these people?  But the PPP survey is more specific, more troubling and more immediately consequential.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Day Without Immigrants

Washington Post today:

"Immigrants around the U.S. stayed home from work and school Thursday to demonstrate how important they are to America’s economy, and many businesses closed in solidarity, in a nationwide protest called A Day Without Immigrants."

"Expensive restaurants and fast-food joints alike closed, some perhaps because they had no choice, others because of what they said was sympathy for their immigrant employees. Sushi bars, Brazilian steakhouses, Mexican eateries and Thai and Italian restaurants all turned away lunchtime customers."

"There were no immediate estimates of how many students stayed home in many cities. Many student absences may not be excused, and some people who skipped work will lose a day’s pay or perhaps even their jobs. But organizers and participants argued the cause was worth it.  A school board official said that more than 1,100 students went on strike at Dallas Independent School District schools."

NY Times yesterday:

"In a city where expense account meals are a central part of power players’ lives, some of Washington’s best-known restaurants will close their doors on Thursday in solidarity with a national campaign to draw attention to the power and plight of immigrants."

"Activists and groups in cities across the country have picked up the call, reposting fliers found online, and in some cases organizing demonstrations to coincide with the event. Several activists said that they did not know how the campaign began or how many people would heed it, and that as far as they knew, there was no national organization behind it."

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Washington Essential

There is so much turmoil in Washington right now that it seems necessary to get down to essentials.

The most essential for holders of federal office is the U.S. Constitution that they have all sworn to uphold, to "support and defend."  Some offences committed by the current regime are in the Constitution itself.  Others are violations of law that flesh out Constitutional mandates.  Moreover, they are laws passed as prescribed in the Constitution.  That's what makes them lawful.

The Constitution sets forth responsibilities.  The Justice Department has responsibilities to uphold the law regardless of whether transgressors are in high office and in the same party, including the guy who hired you.  The FBI has investigative responsibilities, and answers to both the Executive and Legislative branches.

Members of Congress swear that oath to the Constitution.  Notably they have to sign it as well as say it.  They have the ultimate responsibility to uphold the Constitution when the Executive violates it.

Unfortunately most of them won't do so unless they perceive that the political zeitgeist forces them to.  So the media furor, the polls and the heat members of Congress get at "town hall meetings" in their districts and states, etc. all play a part.

The essential crime is violating the Constitution.  The essential remedy is following the Constitution, regardless of party or politics.

So ladies and gentlemen, do your fucking jobs.  Until that happens it's all just a sordid circus.

And ultimately, if you don't do your jobs, darkness falls all the faster.

Monday, February 13, 2017


“I sustain myself on the puppet drug of personal technology. Every touch of a button brings the neural rush of finding something I never knew and never needed to know until it appears at my anxious fingertips, where it remains for a shaky second before disappearing forever.”

a character in Zero K
by Don DeLillo

Do our machines (and our abstractions) measure what we become,
or do we become what our machines measure?

"An English speaker who describes a friend as aggressive will be reluctant to describe the same person as kind for that would imply that the friend possessed inconsistent traits.  Mandarin speakers do not detect an inconsistency when they say that a person teases her friends but lends them money because they do not use the abstract terms aggressive and kind."

Jerome Kagan
On Being Human: Why Mind Matters

Sunday, February 12, 2017

But It's There

"The whole task [of poetry, the arts] is to reveal the inner world that does exist, that isn't acknowledged socially, or even acknowledged personally sometimes, because it is so buried, so latent--but it's there!"

Allen Ginsberg
collage by Jean/Hans Arp

Denying the inner world is tantamount to denying the individual.  And both are routinely denied in public affairs but also--paradoxically, as we used to say--by the reductionism of contemporary psychology, self-styled neuroscience popularizers and the big thinkers of the digital future, who see computers and social media as the slots that individual humans have to fit into.  The difference between now and say the 1950s or the Reagan 80s is that reductionist conformity just comes in more flavors.

Jane Jacobs News

I kind of faded out on Jane Jacobs' Dark Ages Ahead, now that we don't have to wait for one anymore.  Maybe I'll get back to it.  But there's a nice piece on Jane in the Nation from earlier this month by Rebecca Tuhus-Dubrow.  It's a nice primer on her life, work and importance as the author of "Life of Great American Cities (1961), one of the seminal books of the 20th century."

Such insights as: Jacobs’s unconventional politics grew out of her temperament. She was allergic to dogma; she followed not an ideology but a methodology. She did not assume, or imagine, or take things on faith; she observed. But she didn’t stop there: She accumulated observations and distilled them into general principles. For her, empiricism and theory were not opposites but complements.

This piece marks the occasion of a new collection of Jacobs' shorter essays and speeches, Vital Little Plans, and a new biography, Eyes on the Street.

Tuhus-Dubrow also notes that some of the characterizations and criticism of Jacobs comes from people who simply did not read her books very carefully--what they say she didn't critique, she certainly did, in detail.  An unfortunate but not in my experience rare tendency among the professional opinionati.

Towards the end of this piece, a Jacobs' essay or speech is quoted about the virtue of little plans rather than big ones in city planning.  It's quoted from a speech she gave in Germany but I vividly remember these sentences from a speech she gave on another occasion that was published in the American Scholar.  That speech, and a TV documentary on the city, were my introductions to her.  She became essential to my work on The Malling of America.

As for Dark Age Ahead, her last book, here's the only video of her talking about it at length, at a bookstore in Oregon.  This also preserves her priceless defense of anecdotal evidence and the most trenchant summary of the limitations of science that omits it.  When thinking about the future, Jane Jacobs is one of the indispensables.

Friday, February 10, 2017

The Frog Remains

“Theories come and theories go, the frog remains.”

 biologist Jean Rostand
 quoted by Jerome Kagan  in On Being Human: Why Mind Matters 

While some local rivers reach flood stage after several more days of rain, nearby creeks are full and even at this distance the evening vibrates with the sound of frogs.  (Though not as exotic looking as this one, I expect.)  It reminds me of falling asleep in my grandmother's house to the sound of frogs in the bog past the railroad tracks... But of course the quote is about more than frogs...

Thursday, February 09, 2017

“The prosperous have so many layers of shields that they’re blind as human bats. Even their language excludes all other considerations except their own. I don’t want to talk the language of the enemies of my heart.”

Jim Harrison
The Road Home

Defining the Darkness.14

As awful and horrendous as are such attention-getting outrages as the immigration ban, banning a Senator from debate or threatening a department store chain, they are also classic misdirection.  They dominate the Zeitgeist, mixing outrage with entertainment, generating anger and fundraising.  Meanwhile a lot of evil underway escapes attention.  An historically peculiar corporate fascism,  an attempted totalitarian state, in a frenzy.

Alternet/by way of Salon: Trump’s tweets are a sideshow: His executive orders are building a corporate state...

Monday, February 06, 2017

Post-Capitalist Ecotopia?

There are many built-in aspects of what we call capitalism that are massively destructive and ultimately self-destructive.  For example, capitalism has yet to prove it can work without slavery.  By its nature unrestricted capitalism is an ultimate predator, eventually functioning like the vacuum cleaner monster in Yellow Submarine that sucks up everything, including its environment and then itself.

So by its nature, capitalism uses up all available resources as long as they are cheap enough.  And today it makes the most expensive resources cheap enough by ignoring their costs completely.  For instance, the effects on the environment, ecology and biosphere.  In other words, it will happily destroy the Earth and everything it sustains (including capitalists) in pursuit of immediate profit.

This is one reason Kim Stanley Robinson believes that the climate crisis will never be successfully addressed under capitalism.  KSR is a science-fiction writer who is to me is emerging as America's foremost public intellectual.  He is deeply versed in technology, environmental issues and now in areas of economics.

This video is from 2015.  He is speaking at UC Santa Cruz, beginning with the work and context of Callenbach's Ecotopia, a best-seller of the 1970s, and moving through a brilliant capsule conceptual history of the 60s and 70s to today.

He sees the end of the Cold War and the persistent and now more widely recognized problems of inequality and climate degradation as shifting the "window of acceptable discourse" to include questioning capitalism itself.  He notes that Bernie Sanders at that point was polling well even though calling himself a socialist.

(He suggests that the window has moved to include more of the left, but might also include more of the right.  It's interesting in this context to speculate on a certain panic among fossil capitalists leading to support for extreme right wingers, as at least a contributor to the current apocalyptic situation.)

Anyway, in this talk he has some fascinating and provocative analyses and ideas on how capitalism could be essentially done away with fairly quickly, and in the near future.  In fact, it could be triggered deliberately by an act of (legal) civil rebellion.  He does warn however that fully realizing this post-capitalist economy is the work of generations, a step process, that requires lifelong commitment.

He describes a contemporary Ecotopia novel that posits post-capitalism and how to get there. I suspect his new novel, New York 2140, coming out next month, will flesh out these ideas.

This is the most hopeful set of ideas I've heard in years.  It's a future I'd want to live in.  This is the "Dreaming Up" this place is supposed to be about.  

He begins at about 11:25 of this video.  And then it's a breathtaking run (for about 30 minutes, minus the intro and questions afterwards, although the questions and answers are interesting.)  Currently on YouTube it's had just 302 views.  Maybe we can add a few more here.

Spread the word.

It also occurs to me that Callenbach's Ecotopia is set pretty much where I'm living.  So I'm going to have to go back and read it again.

Saturday, February 04, 2017


Early this drizzly afternoon, I opened the front door to an unusual chatter of birds.  And there they were--perched on bare branches of every tree around, including the big Linden next door.  They seemed to gather there, and I had time to go around back with a better view of this tree and snap a few photos.  Before long they were all gone.

I'm not very good at identifying birds, though I love them all.  So I'm not sure if these were locals.  But from this behavior it seems possible that they are migrants, either leaving here for elsewhere, or pausing here in transit.  This area near Humboldt Bay is a flyway for various bird species, and February is a month some travel.  Anyway, I enjoyed seeing them and especially hearing them.  I miss the songbirds back in western PA.

This is also about the time that the hummingbirds chow down before they abandon the feeders fringing the back porch, usually later this month.  Some leave the area (the Allen hummers) though others stay (the Anna hummers.)  Even the ones that stay don't check the feeders very often if at all.  I see them in the front yard, if anywhere.  This year we've had our normal minimum of three regular visitors, a family that nests nearby for generations I suspect.  I didn't see much of them this year.  Time flies, along with the birds.  

Friday, February 03, 2017

It's Not Accidental

“The Occidental burns incense to himself, and his own countenance is veiled from him in the smoke.”

[Occidental: people from the West, as distinguished from Oriental, from the East.  In modern terms, white civilization of white people.]

Climate Reality Check 2017

Whatever the state of the battle with reality in the US, the rest of the world knows what it is worried about, and that's the climate crisis.

2016 was the hottest year on record--so much expected that I didn't even bother mentioning it here.  But global experts in fields that have to deal with the effects as well as the causes of climate change have a clear idea of what they're worried about.  Even economists, notably lagging in taking the climate crisis seriously until recent years, are waving their hands of graphs and jumping up and down with their charts.

After polling their 750 international experts, the World Economic Forum recently released this year's list ranking the impact of global risks in 2017.  Being economists, their impact is largely measured in how much money they will cost to deal with, but also the chaos they cause that can prompt even more expensive problems.  (Here's the PDF of the report, and a story about it--with the graphs of course...)

 Note that these aren't risks for the far future, or even the fairly near future.  They are for this year.

The top risk in terms of likelihood is Extreme Weather Events.  The next two are also climate related: Large-Scale Involuntary Migration (which can result from extreme events, droughts and wars that are in part caused by droughts and extreme weather), and Major Natural Disasters.

Large-Scale Terrorist Attacks is fourth.

Massive data fraud is fifth this year, which adds a worry to the top five of 2016, all of which were directly or indirectly related to climate crisis effects.  Climate crisis related effects were in the top five for the past five years, and of course, there were in that time extreme weather events and natural disasters that cost billions, and created involuntary migration.

In terms of degree of impact, the only thing worse than the four climate related categories-- Extreme Weather Events, Water Crises, Major Natural Disasters and Failure of Climate Change Mitigation and Adaptation (i.e. causes and effects)-- is Weapons of Mass Destruction.

The general state of knowledge and some political nuances are nicely presented in this NY Times article.  But what scientists hadn't quite predicted turns out to be how bad it is getting and how fast.  For instance, the Washington Post:

"The Arctic is so warm and has been this warm for so long that scientists are struggling to explain it and are in disbelief. The climate of the Arctic is known to oscillate wildly, but scientists say this warmth is so extreme that humans surely have their hands in it and may well be changing how it operates.

Temperatures are far warmer than ever observed in modern records, and sea ice extent keeps setting record lows.

2016 was the warmest year on record in the Arctic, and 2017 has picked up right where it left off. “Arctic extreme (relative) warmth continues,” Ryan Maue, a meteorologist with WeatherBell Analytics, tweeted on Wednesday, referring to January’s temperatures.

Veteran Arctic climate scientists are stunned.

“[A]fter studying the Arctic and its climate for three and a half decades, I have concluded that what has happened over the last year goes beyond even the extreme,” wrote Mark Serreze, director of the National Snow and Ice Data Center in Boulder, Colo., in an essay for Earth magazine.

It's situations like the Arctic and the breaking up of huge ice shelves in the Antarctic that renews the study of--and the worry about--tipping points.  

Paris (AFP) - Of the many things that keep climate scientists awake at night, tipping points may be the scariest.

To start with, these thresholds for deep, sometimes catastrophic change in the complex web of Earth's natural forces, caused by man-made global warming, are largely invisible. You can't see them on the horizon, and could easily cross one without noticing. Also, there is no turning back -- at least not on a human timescale."

While the borders of some are suspected, most are unknown.  So the prudent course would be to not test those borders, and to pull back as far as possible.

Much of the world gets that now.  Most of the US does, more or less.  Just not its government, apparently.

Thursday, February 02, 2017

"Repelled by the butcheries of the world war 1914 we surrendered to the arts. We looked for an elemental art that would free the people from the insanity of the times, and for a new order that might establish a balance between heaven and hell.”
Hans Arp, a founder of Dada, and creator of both these collage works

Posted in honor of the birthday of James Joyce, his contemporary.

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Rights Roots

For those of us who lived through it, the narrative is familiar.  The Civil Rights movement grew through the confrontations in the South in the 1950s and 1960s over rights guaranteed and affirmed by the Supreme Court such as voting rights and school integration, and generally the end of public segregation in the South.

 Eventually, through federal legislation, many of these rights were won, but there also resulted a realignment of political parties, in which the previously solid Democratic South moved towards state's rights Republicans, while African Americans moved more definitely towards the Democratic Party which had supported these rights.

In the later 1960s, the unified Civil Rights movement splintered, and a new movement arose called black liberation.  The burgeoning antiwar movement, plus the example of black liberation, seemed instrumental in creating the women's liberation movement in the early 70s, with its emphasis on sexism and equal rights.

But of course these weren't the first such American movements, and in a way they were recapitulations of  a previous series of movements in the 19th century.

These movements are described in The Slave's Cause: A History of Abolition by Manisha Sinha (Yale U. Press.)  It was reviewed by James M. McPherson in the New York Review of Books (October 27, 2016.)  They happened when slavery was still legal and practiced in the US South.  The issue was abolition of slavery, and an international abolition movement arose as early as America's founding.

The abolition movement that ended slavery in England and its colonies, and finally in the US North, began in the 18th century and continued into the 1830s.  It was a largely based on the immorality of slavery.  Quakers and members of other religions were earliest abolitionists. By the 1830s it was a mass movement.

Opposition was fierce. Abolitionists in the South were assaulted and imprisoned.  But while mobs broke into post offices to destroy abolitionist pamphlets in the South, mobs in the North attacked abolitionist lecturers, smashed printing presses, nearly lynched the most prominent advocate in the country and did murder abolitionist Elijah Lovejoy in Alton, Illinois.

"These mobs consisted mainly of lower-class whites who feared that emancipation would loose a horde of freed slaves to come north and compete with them for jobs and social equality," McPherson notes.  But wealthy men doing business in the South also participated.

Then as the 1830s ended the abolitionist movement entered a new phase, and became part of the political process.  With the more radical and uncompromising voices keeping up the pressure, abolitionist politicians gradually but firmly prevailed in taking over a new political party in the 1860s, the Republicans.  It was this support that enabled President Lincoln to issue the Emancipation Proclamation.

Authors Henry Bibb, activist Sojourner Truth, poet Frances Ellen Watkins
Sinha makes some cogent points often lost to simpler historical accounts.  First, that the abolitionists weren't all well-meaning white people.  Black voices were crucial to establishing credibility.  "Sinha has rescued scores of black writers, lecturers, preachers, organizations, and activists from undeserved obscurity."  Lawsuits and petitions by slaves were instrumental in ridding the North of slavery.

By the second wave of abolition, the movement was interracial--"the first genuinely integrated movement in American history...The prominent place of blacks sustained the movement's goal of equal rights as well as abolition."

The dividing line between the first and second wave of abolitionists was women's rights.  The early movement was led by men but peopled largely by women, and women got fed up with it.  Noted one, "the investigation of the rights of the slave has led me to a better understanding of my own."

Sinha concludes that "the nineteenth-century woman rights movement, as it was called, grew out of abolition."  That movement officially began at the Seneca Falls Convention in 1848.

As President Obama said often, the struggle for rights and for justice is a long process, with peaks and vales, steps forward and steps back,  common purpose and common forgetting.  So without knowing how or meaning it, sure enough, it often rhymes.  Burying the history in comforting platitudes may obscure this.  But accounts like this bring it alive again.

Civil War.2

"A bipartisan group of more than 70 former federal prosecutors -- including 50 who served in Republican administrations -- issued a harshly worded statement Tuesday in support of former acting Attorney General Sally Yates.

The former prosecutors also said they could not have defended Trump's order had they been asked to do so."

And some interesting details about fired Acting A-G Sally Yates:

To begin with, Yates’ temporary ascendance to the job of attorney general was no fluke. It was Trump’s own transition team that asked her to remain, and with good reason. Over a 27-year career with the Justice Department, spanning both Republican and Democratic administrations, Yates earned a reputation as not only a skilled lawyer, but also as someone who was fiercely independent and above politics. This, in part, explains how she managed to be confirmed to the department’s No. 2 post in a Republican-controlled Senate, receiving 84 votes in 2015.

At her Senate confirmation hearing that year, Yates was asked by, of all people, current Attorney General-designee Jeff Sessions whether she was capable of standing up to the president if she ever believed his actions to be unlawful.

Yates answered unhesitatingly that she would do just that."

The above Politico article by former director of public affairs for the Justice Dept. Brian Fallon outlines why Yates was doing her job correctly, why her firing and the subsequent hiring of a regime loyalist trashes the Justice Department's legal independence, at a time when several regime members are under investigation, with more likely to come.

And more generally...

NY Times:
Even after years of unbreakable gridlock and unyielding partisanship, it was a jarring new level of confrontation and conflict, and it was contributing to a building sense of crisis...

Monday, January 30, 2017

Civil War

There is civil war in the Justice Department, in the State Department and I'm guessing in the US military and every other part of the federal government, thanks to the Machiavellian blitzkrieg by the apprentice emperor and his minions (or banions.)

Concerning the immigration ban,  acting attorney general Sally Q. Yates (pictured)
issued this statement: "My responsibility is to ensure that the position of the Department of Justice is not only legally defensible, but is informed by our best view of what the law is after consideration of all the facts," she wrote. "At present, I am not convinced that the defense of the executive order is consistent with these responsibilities nor am I convinced that the executive order is lawful."

She instructed the Justice Department not to defend the immigration ban against the multitude of law suits on their way, and apprentice emperor promptly fired her.  It took Nixon years to start firing attorneys-general for political reasons but this regime hasn't even been in power a fortnight.

This followed Homegrown Hitler's mouthpiece suggesting that people at the State Department who disagreed with the efficacy of the immigration order should leave their jobs.The NY Times:

"Career officials at the State Department are circulating a so-called dissent cable, which says that Mr. Trump’s executive order closing the nation’s doors to more than 200 million people with the intention of weeding out a handful of would-be terrorists will not make the nation safer, and might instead deepen the threat."

This is just some of what is apparent.  There's chaos even in the Republican party and within its donor class.  But truly dangerous civil war is suggested by another story in the Guardian, of border guards refusing to obey court orders halting deportations, and instead adhering to their leader Homegrown Hitler :

Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agents defied the orders of federal judges regarding Donald Trump’s travel bans on Sunday, according to members of Congress and attorneys who rallied protests around the country in support of detained refugees and travellers from seven Muslim-majority countries.

On Sunday afternoon, four Democratic members of the House of Representatives arrived at Dulles airport in Virginia on word that people had been detained and denied access to lawyers.“We have a constitutional crisis today,” representative Don Beyer wrote on Twitter. “Four members of Congress asked CBP officials to enforce a federal court order and were turned away.”

"Late on Saturday night, federal judges in New York, Virginia and Massachusetts ordered a temporary halt to the president’s deportation of people who had arrived in the US with valid visas.

“Rogue customs and Border Patrol agents continue to try to get people on to planes,” Becca Heller, director of the International Refugee Assistance Project, told reporters on Sunday morning at JFK airport in New York. “A lot of people have been handcuffed, a lot of people who don’t speak English are being coerced into taking involuntary departures.”

Apart from constitutional crisis, this indicates the nature of the civil war.  Just as  FBI agents deeply opposed to Hilary Clinton were reportedly behind efforts to undermine her candidacy, there are likely far right authoritarian elements embedded in the government now emboldened to aggressive action, opposing and opposed by others more devoted to constitutional law and values.

When "rogue customs and Border Patrol agents" become the Gestapo, along with previously rogue elements of the national police force (the FBI) and other federal police agencies,  Homegrown Hitler can work his will on everyone.  But before that happens there will be civil war within those agencies.  How long that war will be, and the outcome, remains to be seen.

Perhaps the most dangerous place is the U.S. military.  With the leadership very much undermined with what one publication called a "palace coup," replacing the Joint Chiefs of Staff with an alt.right conspiracy theory zealot as national security advisers, previously rogue elements will be emboldened.

Through the 50s, 60s and well into the 70s, top military leadership was dominated by warmongers, that gloried in the wealth spent on suicidal nuclear weapons (Dr. Strangelove's General Jack D. Ripper was not all that satirical), counselled President Kennedy to nuke the Soviet Union at the start of the Cuban Missile Crisis and got America into the national nightmare of Vietnam and kept us there.

But that leadership changed dramatically over the decades, so that for all its many faults, it became more sober, measured and professional.  After much struggle against the including of blacks, women and homosexuals as equal members, it has led in these efforts, causing internal strife.

The military not so incidentally is at the forefront of both clean energy conversion and in taking the climate crisis seriously.  Then there's the question of The Button.

We may never know the extent of the civil war now likely brewing in the military because of Homegrown Hitler, and then again, we may know it very soon.

And a P.S. to my "Digital Resistance" post:   Someone is already calling for a general strike.

And He Thought He Could At Least Get Some Sleep

One of my faithful readers kindly wrote in to request I keep everyone informed on what President Obama is up to.  So here you are:


Breaking his silence only 10 days after he left office, former President Barack Obama backed nationwide protests against President Donald Trump's executive order on immigration Monday.

In a strongly worded statement issued through a spokesman, Obama said he was "heartened by the level of engagement taking place in communities around the country."

"Citizens exercising their Constitutional right to assemble, organize and have their voices heard by their elected officials is exactly what we expect to see when American values are at stake," he said.

Digital Resistance

The potential for social media to quickly and widely organize was amply proven in the many women's protest marches on January 21, in which millions participated nationally and worldwide.

Similarly the more targeted but quicker response to Homegrown Hitler's immigration blitzkrieg that got demonstrators to airports around the country and the world.  Digital media doubtless also helped organize the more direct help by lawyers helping people in the chaos of an unconstitutional sneak attack.

The internal blitzkrieg appears to be a current strategy for the apprentice emperor and his regime, so counter-moves will need to be nimble.  But when things get more widely consequential, digital communication won't be enough in itself.  Serious disruptions and true resistance will take cool heads, careful strategy and planning, and courage.

Social media can help spread the word, but can also spread panic and misapprehensions.  There is power in the spontaneous and instantaneous, but also danger.

I foresee the possibility of the ultimate weapon of peaceful resistance, the strike. There will probably be sit-ins, occupations and so forth, especially on the appropriate issues.  But for actions with economic consequences, or actions that try to force good people to commit injustices and cause others to suffer, we may see strikes of some kind, and maybe many kinds, including a general strike.  I would have said 'eventually' but that may be sooner than later.

It may be best if people start thinking about this now, before the back and forth gets out of hand, or before people get tired of demonstrating with no result, or get exhausted by Homegrown Hitler's unrelenting blitzkrieg.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Digital Degradation

Criminals love Facebook Live
The Guardian:
"The number of people live-streaming their criminal acts on Facebook is on the rise. A few days ago, three men in Sweden were arrested for live-streaming themselves raping a woman. A young man with disabilities was tortured on camera in Chicago, the musings of a spree killer being chased by police and more have also been live-streamed on Facebook. Criminals have historically committed crimes with an audience in mind and now it has become easier, as Facebook provides access to its 1.79 billion users."

Friday, January 27, 2017


Partly out of inertia, partly due to other demands on my increasingly limited attention, I am remaining at this old pop stand awhile longer.

I still intend to change venues, to better reflect where I'm coming from, what my concerns are, and what my prejudices and blind spots may be, due especially to age.

But for now, I will start exploring those concerns right here.  I suppose "dreaming up in a darkening age" still applies.

This blog has some readers, apparently apart from the ones I know personally, if Google statistics are to be believed.  So I'll keep it going for now, at least until I have an actual transition to announce.

Darkness Falls: Digital Orwell

You can see where this is going.  When the Homegrown Hitler regime denied the most obvious sort of fact--numbers that can be pretty much counted by evidence before your eyes--it tells us what to expect.  The key was not so much overestimating the crowd on inauguration day, versus media estimates based on visual evidence plus comparative statistics.  It was the claim that it was the largest inaugural crowd ever.  This is so obviously false as to be absurd.  It is as claimed "alternative facts."  Millions of fraudulent votes--another one.

So we can expect many more alternative facts. Supposing Homegrown Hitler gets his way, when the medical insurance market wobbles and many people lose coverage, resulting in untreated illnesses and death, any statistics to bear this out, any stories to bear this out, will be denied.  The claim will be everyone is covered, it's working great, everybody is happy.

When inflation goes up as a result of restricted trade, that will be denied.  The inflation statistics will be faulty.  When tax cuts for the rich are passed and the deficit and debt increase as a result, those numbers will be denied.  The deficit and debt will be said to be going down.  Unemployment numbers will not be valid unless they go down.  And so on.

Muzzling federal agencies from presenting real facts is also being attempted, so there is less competition with the alternative facts.  Bush's efforts were timid compared to Homegrown Hitler.

It should not be surprising.  Republicans have adhered to alternative facts for at least eight years, which is how they could claim that Obamacare wasn't working, the planet isn't heating, the federal deficit was out of control, the Iran nuclear treaty was a failure etc.  It's hard to avoid seeing a causal relationship between their alternative facts and the political fact that they were voted fully into power.  So far they're working.

This is the most blatant situation since Orwell defined it, especially since he predicted the use of technology to enforce the control of facts.  This control so far has been a product of the digital age in ways that need not be repeated here.

But now it is the federal government that is the purveyor of alternative facts.  This is the essence of totalitarianism.

It's not exactly new that rulers of one kind or another wield power by means of alternative facts in crucial areas.  For decades US officials lied about the effects of atomic bomb tests and nuclear weapons radiation.  According to major corporations, smoking was not unhealthy, they weren't really polluting, they weren't using slave labor.  And so on.

Lying is endemic to war.  Often it is lying about what isn't seen--i.e. what you don't know. When lying about Vietnam became obvious, public support wavered and toppled.  But it took some time, and much suffering.

This time what is being lied about is right out there for everyone to see.  And the program to lie about everything is openly stated.  Only they aren't lies because no they don't accept that facts exist in any meaningful way, just assertions as a basis for action, as if they were facts. It couldn't be clearer what the program is.

 This is the kind of war we're now in.  The dogs of this war were loosed by the election, and it's going to be a long war.  A lot of people are going to suffer, and there will be casualties.  Whether anyone knows about them will depend on the American media being as vigilant on vital matters as they were over the weekend on the size (as opposed to the madness) of crowds.  

Welcome to Enantriodromia USA

“Every good quality has its bad side, and nothing good can come into the world without at once producing a corresponding evil.”

“An intimation of the terrible law that governs blind contingency, which Heraclitus called the rule of enantriodromia (a running towards the opposite), now steals upon modern man through the by-ways of his mind, chilling him with fear and paralyzing his faith in the lasting effectiveness of social and political measures in the face of these monstrous forces.”

C.G. Jung
The Spirtual Problem of Modern Man” (1928)

From the best to the worst, in a single week...